Renewed attention is being directed to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the slightly more than 100 public and private institutions of higher education established primarily for the purpose of serving the African American community.

The Higher Education Act of 1965 defines an HBCU as: “…any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education] to be a reliable authority as to the quality of training offered or is, according to such an agency or association, making reasonable progress toward accreditation.” 

HBCUs have long been a key source of access to postsecondary education, and not only for black students. They also have served a significant proportion of first-generation students and those from low-income families who struggle to afford college—a growing segment of students in the United States.

According to the American Council on Education, HBCUs represent just 3% of two-year and four-year public and private nonprofit institutions taking part in federal student financial aid programs, but they award 17% of all bachelor’s degrees earned by black students. With an overall enrollment of about 300,000 students, HBCUs also play a major role in graduating black students with bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields. 

HBCUs have been battling strong headwinds. They are chronically underfunded compared to other public institutions. Their endowments are smaller than most private schools. And like many institutions, they are grappling with declining enrollments, although because the typical HBCU is relatively small, they often have little cushion to absorb decreased tuition revenue.

Nonetheless, the past couple of years have seen signs that HBCUs are beginning to receive the attention and respect they deserve from policy makers, and that focus is intensifying as we come closer to the national elections. One indication of this renaissance is the extent to which elected officials and candidates for the Presidency have drafted specific proposals for advancing HBCUs.

In 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order establishing “The White House Initiative to Promote Excellence and Innovation at Historically Black College and Universities.” That action appears to have been mostly symbolic, moving the White House Initiative on HBCUs from the Department of Education to the White House from the Department of Education and designating a senior official to oversee the initiative. 

Last December Trump signed the Future Act, a rare triumph of congressional bipartisanship that permanently provides more than $250 million a year to the nation’s HBCUs along with many other institutions serving large numbers of minority students. The bill restored the $255 million in annual funding that had lapsed earlier in the year. In addition to $85 million a year for HBCUs, it authorized $100 million for Hispanic-serving institutions, $30 million for tribal schools and $40 million for other minority-serving institutions. Lawmakers also added an amendment that simplifies the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. 

Each of the six leading candidates for the Democratic nomination for President has proposed investing more money in HBCUs along with plans for bolstering their mission.

Here’s a quick…read more here.